Kentucky has a roster with future NBA stars and it’s the best team in the Southeastern Conference. Neither of these facts make Kentucky a lock for the 2010 NCAA championship game.
The Kentucky Wildcats defeated Mississippi State in overtime 75-74 on Sunday afternoon to win the SEC tournament championship game. Kentucky, a lock for the 2010 NCAA tournament since the beginning of January, also won the regular season conference championship, going 14-2 in SEC play. The Wildcats head into the 2010 NCAA tournament with an overall record of 32-2.
Kentucky started the 2009-10 regular season on a roll, winning its first 19 games. During that streak, Kentucky knocked off North Carolina, Connecticut and Louisville. During SEC play, the Wildcats defeated every top team in the conference, including Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Mississippi State, Mississippi and Florida.
Freshman superstar and soon-to-be NBA starting guard John Wall leads Kentucky in scoring, averaging just shy of 17 points a contest. Forward DeMarcus Cousins, another fabulous freshman, averages a double-double a game for Kentucky (15.3 points, 10.1 rebounds, 1.8 blocks). Junior forward Patrick Patterson averages 14.7 points and 7.3 rebounds a game and guard Eric Bledsoe, another freshman, averages 10.8 points a game.
On paper, Kentucky is one of the scariest teams playing in the 2010 NCAA tournament. The Wildcats average just under 80 points and 41.5 rebounds a game. The team isn’t flawless, though. As with other John Calipari teams, Kentucky isn’t a great free throw shooting team. The Wildcats also turn the ball over far too often, at times.
Kentucky’s starting five can match up against any other starting five playing in the 2010 NCAA tournament. This team can score from just about anywhere on the floor and Kentucky’s defense is largely underrated. Take away two overtime games (the one on Sunday and one back on February 16) and the team has only give up 70 points once in the past six weeks.
As expected, Kentucky received a number one seed in the 2010 NCAA tournament. Looking at the bracket, the Wildcats should be a lock to cruise into the Sweet 16. From there, Kentucky could be given quite a challenge if Temple, a team with one of the best defenses in the NCAA tournament, also makes it to the round of 16. Both West Virginia and Marquette could also give Kentucky problems en route to the Final Four.
The NCAA tournament selection committee tried its best to put together a championship game of Kentucky vs. Kansas. Out of the two, Kentucky does have an easier road. The Wildcats will need to defeat some premiere teams in order to get to that point. I always try to shy away from picking a freshman-heavy team to win it all during the NCAA tournament. Kentucky has all the talent in the world but the team’s inexperience could prevent them from winning it all this year.
All stats courtesy of ESPN